"Kon-Tiki" is a dramatisation of the true story of the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl who in 1947 embarked on a dangerous expedition 8000 km across the Pacific Ocean, sailing on a balsa-wood raft with no other aids than a short-wave radio and a five-man crew of which only one had sailing experience. Heyerdal was determined to prove his theory that Polynesia had been populated from Peru in South America and not from Asia, as all established scientific theories otherwise suggested.
"'Kon-Tiki' is a fairy-tale. The fact that it's based on a true story about a great Nordic hero, known by everyone – at least over age 45 – makes the story even better," says executive producer Lone Korslund. "We had two talented directors – Norwegian Joachim Rønning and Esben Sandberg whom I had worked with on 'Max Manus' – and a major British producer to back us. That was a great starting point for us to produce a major film."
From Hollywood to Scandinavia
The British producer Jeremy Thomas, whose track record includes Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor", Terry Gilliam's "Tideland" and David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method", first got the idea in 1996 to dramatise the story he had been fascinated by since childhood. Thor Heyerdal had already rejected many offers of adaptation, but Thomas managed to acquire the rights since Heyerdal, who had won an Oscar for his documentary about the expedition in 1951, was impressed by Thomas' own Oscar winner "The Last Emperor".
Jeremy Thomas tried several times to launch "Kon-Tiki" as a big Hollywood production, but the financing kept falling flat. Only when the Norwegian publisher Johan Stenersen suggested Thomas to scale down and make the film a Norwegian production, the project got going.
Lone Korslund, who as Head of Nordic Acquisitions & co-production at Nordisk Film is responsible of finding Nordic projects, says:
"The directors approached us three or four years ago and asked if we wanted to be involved in 'Kon-Tiki'. Because it's such an expensive film, we agreed that it would be a good deal for all parties if we, in addition to the distribution, also got engaged in the production."
With support from the Norwegian and the Danish Film Institutes, among others, Nordisk Film raised 93 million Norwegian kroner for the film.
"Although this is considered a relatively small budget on an international scale, it's an astronomical sum in Scandinavia. The production has been the equivalent of 3 or 4 regular films, and we have been shooting for over three months, almost twice as long as our average productions," says executive producer Henrik Zein, general manager of Nordisk Film Productions.
Sunset over the Kon-Tiki raft, named after the Inca sun god. Photo from the film by Carl Christian Raabe.
Takes in both Norwegian and English, shooting at sea, extensive visual effects, and coordination with 14-15 countries turned out to be quite a challenge for Denmark's oldest production company.
"We've joked that the preparation for the film alone took longer than the actual Kon-Tiki expedition. Thor Heyerdal spent 10 years: he got the idea in 1937 and sailed in 1947. The film has been 15 years in the making, and the journey has been more than twice as long, because we have been in Malta, the Maldives, Bulgaria and three other countries," says Henrik Zein.
"Not many producers have experience in making Scandinavian films with a budget of 100 million kroner. It's a challenge when you haven't tried it before," says Lone Korslund.
Nonetheless, the producers agree that "Kon-Tiki" has been worth the hardships, and they are more than ready for another epic.
"It's such a shame if our Nordic stories are only going to be produced by Americans. Should we really settle for producing nothing but kitchen sink dramas to 15-20 million apiece? I also think that major Scandinavian films should be a choice for the Danish audience. It would come to a sad end if only 'Batman' and 'Spiderman' were on the programme. We are in fierce competition. Therefore, it's important to have these huge Nordic flagships," says Lone Korslund.
"Although we expect most from the Norwegian domestic market, I believe that the film may have great potential in Denmark and internationally. This is a universal story, neither specifically Norwegian nor Danish. Over the past two or three years we have seen a tendency for the films that have performed well in several Scandinavian countries also to sell on the international market."
"Kon-Tiki" has indeed already proven its worth both in Norway and internationally. The film recently won the Audience Award at the Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund and has its international premiere at North America's largest film festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, in September.